Next challenge for Terps: meeting big expectations NCAA TOURNAMENT

March 27, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

DALLAS -- There will be no practices for nearly six months, no more games until the Maryland basketball team opens next season in Hawaii at the Maui Classic.

But the expectations have started to build for the Terrapins, who saw their dreams of another NCAA tournament upset extinguished Friday night in a 78-71 loss to Michigan in the Midwest Regional semifinals.

By reaching the Sweet 16, and by returning all 10 scholarship players from this year's team, Maryland will face a different sort of challenge in 1994-95.

"I was thinking about that walking to the press conference," Maryland coach Gary Williams said, after his team's comeback from a 21-point deficit fell short. "The expectations will be much higher, but it's better to have that than people wondering if you're going to win a couple of conference games."

Had the 10th-seeded Terps beaten the third-seeded Wolverines, they not only would have made the NCAA regional finals for the first time in 19 years, but they also would have qualified for the new Great Eight Tournament. The three-day event, for this season's eight regional finalists, will be played at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., in late November.

Still, because of the potential displayed during the regular season and attention generated the past two weeks from NCAA tournament victories over Saint Louis and Massachusetts, Maryland certainly will be considered a Top 25 program going into next season. And, depending on the recruits Williams signs next month, the Terps could be perceived as a potential Top 10 team.

"We'll have everyone back next year, but we'll have to work hard to accomplish the things we did this year," said Williams.

The great expectations don't seem to bother the players.

"No one expected us to do much this year, and we almost made to the final eight," said freshman forward Keith Booth, who had 17 points and nine rebounds against Michigan (24-7). "Next year, the sky's the limit for us."

Freshman center Joe Smith, who had 14 rebounds against the Wolverines but was held to 12 points, said: "I think we've earned the respect of everyone in the country. We'll be picked to finish a lot higher next year."

Not that Maryland was ready to look toward next season. The Terps (18-12) certainly wanted to savor the season they had just finished, which began with an overtime win against Georgetown and had a number of other high points. The record was the team's best in Williams' five seasons, and the Terps' 8-8 record inthe Atlantic Coast Conference was their best league record in nine years.

Nor did the Terps want to dismiss the defeat to Michigan, knowing that if they had shot a little better from the field (24 of 67) and, perhaps more importantly, from the line (19 of 36), they might be playing today for a chance to go to the Final Four.

"I'm still thinking about some of the plays tonight, the eight minutes when we scored only one basket," said sophomore forward Exree Hipp. "A lot of things can happen between now and next year. Somebody could get hurt. Somebody could have problems with grades. Nobody knows what's going to happen."

Some answers will come during the spring signing period, when Maryland could use as many as three scholarships to fill its needs. Among those the Terps are hoping to sign are Brian Watkins, a 6-foot-8 power forward from Nashville, Tenn., and Rodney Elliott, a 6-8 combination forward from Dunbar. The Terps also could use a pure shooter, or perhaps a combination guard who could back up Duane Simpkins and Johnny Rhodes.

But the current players, and Williams, feel Maryland has enough to compete at a higher level regardless of who comes to College Park. The development of sophomore forward Mario Lucas, who played well in the NCAA tournament, will add to the depth. Freshman guard Matt Kovarik, who didn't play against the Wolverines because of a sprained ankle, and freshman forward Nick Bosnic, whose first season was sidetracked by a couple of bouts with the flu, also could be capable role players.

"We'll be better because everyone we'll be a year older," said Williams, who will meet with his team at Cole Field House tomorrow before he heads to this week's Final Four in Charlotte, N.C. "We'll be able to run our offense for longer periods of time. We'll also be stronger."

Williams will make sure his players work on improving certain aspects of their games. Smith will have to learn how to deal with the double teams he'll face throughout his college career, and will need to put some bulk on his wiry, 6-10, 220-pound body. Booth will have to work on his shooting, both from the perimeter and the free-throw line. Hipp, Rhodes and Simpkins will have to work on their concentration and consistency.

"If I had my choice, I would keep the team as it is," said Simpkins, who went from forgotten freshman to the most improved player in the ACC this season. "But if we had to add a player, it would be a big guy to bang on the boards."

Hipp, whose predictions for this season went from the ridiculous to the sublime when the Terps reached the Sweet 16, isn't making any early prognostications about next season yet. Well, maybe just one.

"I guarantee that I'm going to come in at 205," said Hipp, the 6-8, 180-pound small forward.

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